Friday, January 31, 2014

The Writing Report for January

I realized the other day that the fourth Friday of the month, the day I was intending to publish a Writing Report each month, was last week! Better late than never, I suppose. I blame it on the fact that this month has five Fridays, so I got a little confused with my own posting schedule.

My writing had, like most people's, slowed down quite a bit over the holidays, but has begun to pick up speed again this month, as can be seen in this graph of "Hours Spent Writing Each Week," vs. the weeks in November, December and January. Those two low spots, in weeks 4 and 8, are (you guessed it) Thanksgiving and Christmas.

I still have a target in mind of 10 hours per week, so I'm glad that my time-on-task has started to go up, at least, even though I've missed my target every week since I started keeping track. But this is okay, and I know what I'm aiming for, so I'm glad to see the way the line is trending the past three weeks. Onward and upward!

It really IS important to spend time actually writing, but I've also learned how important it is to think about my writing before I actually sit down and work. In that vein, I've made some good progress on the novel I've been working on for some time, thanks to the advice I've recently received from my new writing consultant, Kathryn Johnson. I found Kathryn through her association with The Writer's Center in Bethesda, MD, where I have taken a number of workshops over the years. She is an instructor there, but also a published author of more than forty novels--in other words, she knows what she's talking about, and I got a lot of great ideas and advice from her after she read my current novel draft. I now have a list of things to work on for this book, which is going to keep me busy for quite some time.

The last bit of news for this month is that last week I started my first class at Johns Hopkins University as a student in the MA in Fiction program. It's the first course in the program, Fiction Techniques, and I'm pleased to say I did all the reading for the first week as well as the assignment, so things are off to a good start.

One of the readings from last week was by John Gardner, "Basic Skills, Genre, and Fiction as Dream." I was struck, especially, by one passage in this classic and wanted to leave you with it, since it describes, better than anything I've ever read, just why it is that I am a writer.

Good description does far more: It is one of the writer's means of reaching down into his unconscious mind, finding clues to what questions his fiction must ask, and, with luck, hints about the answers. Good description is symbolic not because the writer plants symbols in it but because, by working in the proper way, he forces symbols still largely mysterious to him up into his conscious mind where, little by little as his fiction progresses, he can work with them and finally understand them.

And this, in fact, is why I write: to put down that image that has stuck with me forever, even though I don't know why, and to work with it, writing around it and over it and through it, until one day I realize that the story I've been telling has explained to me just why I had been so struck by that initial image, and why it would never let me go.

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